for Justice and his brothers

In the guest room last night I saw a star. 1 of those paper lanterns wrapped around a hanging bulb. I love those things.

When I left India in 1993 – 5 months pregnant – I bought a dozen paper stars. Stars with bright bold designs. Stars of shimmering silvery loveliness. I thought, “At Christmas in our new home in the States we’ll decorate with these stars and remember our beloved India.” But it wasn’t our home that benefited from their beauty. It was an office.

We moved to Madison 12 years ago – with a 3 year old – for my job. At Christmastime, our department decided to decorate. I brought my stars from India. Everyone loved them. We hung them neatly above each cubicle. Nothing inside them to shine. Just the prettiness of the paper and the symbolism of the Christmas star. I kept them in my desk drawer and pulled them out every December for my colleagues to enjoy.

Last summer I packed up all my personal stuff at the office and schlepped it all home as I began my sabbatical. My son – then 15 – saw me unpacking the stars. With excitement he ran to the box, pulling out each one, admiring them with wonder and awe. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Where’d you get these, Mom? I’ve never seen them before! I love them!”

What have I done? An irreversible error in judgment was suddenly visible. And I was broken hearted. How much of what I’ve loved and cherished has been shared with others, but not with my son? What gifts have others benefited from that my son’s never seen? How much energy, focus, intentionality and creativity have I shined on others “for the sake of ministry” while leaving my child in the dark?

We hung stars this past Christmas in our home. My son picked his favorites to hang in his room. They hung in his windows until I talked him into putting them away before Easter. He loves them.

We’ll definitely take those stars to our new home when we leave the U.S. They are a reminder to me now to give my best gifts to my family; to pass on all that I cherish to my son. I love him.

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old-what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:1-4

What do you cherish?
Ask God to bring to mind recent conversations and circumstances that reveal your real priorities and loves.
Who are you sharing those cherished things with?
How are you sharing your “stars” with those closest to you? With the next generation?


sleepless in the shadows

I lay awake – again. The flying, worrying thoughts refuse to settle down in my brain. They know that they can whip me into a tearful angry mess of fear and dismay. (It doesn't take much. They have already laid the groundwork on previous nightly visitations.)

Idiot. Letting them get to me – those frightening questions. Will the not-yet-begun-business generate enough money to pay our bills? Will we be forced to live separately? What will that do to our marriage? Our son? Will I have to work 2 jobs – or 3 - just to keep our family afloat? How will we manage those chronic health issues without insurance? How will we adjust to living in a city built on sand after loving life in this land of lakes? Do we have what it takes to deal well not only with culture stress, but with the dynamics of living and working with extended family? Will we feel trapped in old patterns? In cultural conflicts? In our own stinking internal garbage?

Pretender. After crying enough in frustration and fear, I try playing possum. Perhaps pretending to be asleep will lull my heart and fool my brain. I try pointlessly to master my fears and flying thoughts with my own brain power or, with my determined will, to cram them back into that Pandora’s Box tucked into a dark corner of my heart.

Fool. Underneath those questions are deeper ones. Questions passed on from my garden-tending, apple-eating ancestors through each successive generation. Sharpened to a fine point by my own independence-loving self. Does God really care? Can He really do anything about this anyway? My love of seeing biases my perspective of my whole world when I can’t see.

Mercy. Why is it so hard to remember to pray? It only took a second to turn my mind and heart to God. He swooped in to catch me like the giant eagle in that torrential scene in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf, trapped by evil and pelted by storm, leans back into nothingness, confident that his silent cries have been heard.

God’s voice was clear.
“Psalm 126”, He said.

I leaned out of bed to find my Bible. Turning to Psalm 126 I was caught off guard with these words:

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like men restored to health.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Here was an invitation to offer to God our grieving tears and the seeds He’s sown in us til now, praying in faith for Him to restore our fortunes and our health. To make impossible streams in the desert possible. To produce a harvest from sand.

Asking God for those things, I laughed with joy. And fell asleep.

i think i need an intervention
i’m chasing the sensation
i think i need an intervention
some kind of liberation
grab hold me
undo me
expose me
inside out
of the dark shadows
blinding light
set me free
if you want to get free come on and get free
from Paul LeFeber’s new solo album, Shouldn't Be Said

Worries have a way of shadowing us. Those shadows can easily overwhelm, blinding us to the truth about God and darkening our perspective on our circumstances. But it doesn’t take God long to rescue us – if we’ll just turn our face to the light.Today, find a quiet place where you can stand in God’s presence. (Have a Bible and a pen & paper nearby.)

Look down at your shadow of worry. What do you see? With your head bowed down, ask God to reveal the deeper heart questions beneath worry’s shadow. What lies are you believing about God’s character and care? Bring those lies into the light by confessing them out loud to God.

Now look up - lift your face as if looking into face of God. Ask God for mercy: to reveal the truth to you about who He is and what He wants to do for you. Stand still. Listen. If any Scripture passage comes to mind, read it. Respond to what you see there.

Today, don’t be surprised if God catches you off guard as He continues to illuminate the shadows and reveal glimpses of His promises.


Dying Hurts

I’m slipping. I can see myself slipping. A little escapist behavior here. A little denial there. Pain everywhere. If I don’t stop this slide right now I will end up right back where I was before sabbatical last year. But it hurts. And that little bit of oblivion brings a false, but welcome, sense of comfort and albeit temporary release from pain. So I let myself slip.

My friend Duncan, a therapist and spiritual director, warned me, with a pained look on his face, “You are going to experience profound grief.” He’s a prophet. Now I know what “profound” feels like. It hurts. It hurts bad.

For 2 weeks now I’ve been reviewing the past 30 years of working in this organization. Recounting grievances and griefs. Regretting things left undone or things that were my undoing. Reminding myself of mistakes. Rehearsing “what ifs” and “what fors” and “what was that all abouts”. I know it’s not the whole truth. But it’s the truth as I see it right now. All these griefs visit me in vague wisps of emotion and faint glimmers of faces, or with sudden horror and face-slapping realization.

In church one Sunday, as I was lost in my own reverie and reminiscing, it came to me. I have been trying to escape the pain of grief. To numb it. To pray it all better, believing that if God were truly in control or I was really in God’s will I wouldn’t hurt. But that’s not true. There’s no escaping it: dying hurts.

I’m in the process of dying:
to work I am competent at,
to people I know and love,
to a church community that I respect,
to a city I enjoy,
to a house we’ve made a home,
to living near my mom,
to being in my own culture,
to my plans for my future and my family’s future,
to knowing where the next paycheck is coming from,
to life as I’ve known it.
If I were physically dying of a medical condition, I would expect to hurt. But somehow, I didn’t make the connection.

I want the life equivalent of morphine, thank you very much.

But seeing this process for what it is – the pain of dying to one kind of life so I can live a new one – helps ease the pain. There’s a purpose. And there’s an end to it. But not today. Today I’m still dying. Today I hurt. But I choose not to postpone the pain knowing that the quicker I die to all of this, the sooner I can live again.

I’m sure I’ll still slip now and then. My memory is short. But God is merciful. He knows just what I’m going through. After all, He’s been through the whole death and pain thing Himself! And lived to tell about it.

So bring it on.

Healing without grief doesn’t happen.
Grief without support and new loves doesn’t happen either.
Safe People, Henry Cloud & John Townsend, pg. 153

Make a 15 minute appointment with God.

At your appointment, talk to God like you would a doctor: tell Him where it hurts. Then sit still and listen while God gives you His diagnosis of the pain.

Is it something that needs healing? Ask for healing in Jesus’ Name.

Is it something that requires a change of heart or behavior on your part? Ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name and power from the Holy Spirit to change.

Is it something that is being put to death for your good? Ask for eyes to see God in the process and a willing heart to receive the new thing God has for you.